PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Montenegro’s police have arrested an alleged boss of a criminal gang which has spread fear and bloodshed in the Balkans and across Europe, officials said Wednesday.
Deputy Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic hailed the arrest of Slobodan Kascelan in the Montenegrin seaside town of Kotor late Tuesday as the greatest success of the tiny country’s police force in the past 10 years.
Kascelan, 58, was arrested on suspicion of organizing the criminal group that has carried out and was planning more serious criminal acts, Montenegro’s media said.
Kascelan is the alleged leader of a criminal clan that has since 2015 been involved in a bloody war with a rival Montenegrin gang over control of cocaine smuggling from South America.
Since the two gangs that originated in adjacent villages near the scenic Adriatic resort of Kotor split up over their share of the drug smuggling market, they have launched deadly attacks against each other in Montenegro, neighboring Serbia and Bosnia as well as Greece, Spain and Italy.
At least 40 people, including gang members and their relatives as well as innocent bystanders, have been killed in the armed clashes and assassination attempts between the two groups since 2015, according to the local media reports.
Kascelan has survived two assassination attempts, including in 2016 when he was seriously wounded in the northern Serbian town of Novi Sad after his car was sprayed with machine-gun fire. In 2019, he was arrested in Montenegro on suspicion of loan sharking, but was released on 500,000-euro ($600,000) bail, which was collected by his family.
Montenegro’s new populist government that took power after a parliamentary election in August has pledged to root out endemic crime and corruption in the Adriatic state which is on one of the main drug smuggling transit routes for Western European markets.
The deputy prime minister, Abazovic, said the latest arrest is just the beginning of the government fight against crime.
“We have promised that Montenegro will not be ruled by mafia and we are fulfilling that promise,” he said.